08 January 2007

Isamu Noguchi -- Hérodiade, 1944


Seeing the stage set with two dancers (left to right: Martha Graham and May O'Donnell) gives a very different impression when compared to the set itself. In his autobiography, A Sculptor's World, Noguchi referred to this stage set as his "most baroque and specifically sculptural." He described the set as follows:

"Within a woman's private world, and intimate space, I was asked to place a mirror, a chair, and a clothes rack. Salome dances before her mirror. What does she see? Her bones, the potential skeleton of her body. The chair is like an extension of her vertebrae; the clothes rack, the circumscribed bones on which is hung her skin. This is the desecration of beauty, the consciousness of time."

The interaction between the dancers' bodies and the sculptural objects creates a much more dynamic relationship, a conversation of forms where the sculptures resemble stiff armatures onto which a body could be constructed. The poses and upward curves of the dancers' arms and the sculptural elements suggest marionettes or mechanical bodies controlled by outside forces, something above and beyond the stage set itself.

The viewpoint of the photograph including the dancers is inherently more dynamic with a strong diagonal composition and thrust, where as the stage set itself is presented in a more static, balanced formation. The confrontation of modern abstract sculpture and modern interpretive dance was apparently a remarkably new and unusually rich and fertile ground for further explorations.

Noguchi and Graham went on the collaborate on more than twenty such productions between 1935 and 1966. In that time, Noguchi also collaborated with Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine, Ruth Page, and the Royal Shakespeare Company.


Photograph by Arnold Eagle.

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